(Vištaspa, whence "Hystaspes") is the Avestan-language
name of a figure of Zoroastrian scripture and tradition, portrayed as
an early follower of Zoroaster, and his patron, and instrumental in
the diffusion of the prophet's message. Although Vishtasp is not epigraphically
attested, he is – like Zoroaster also – traditionally assumed
to have been a historical figure, and – again, like Zoroaster
– that figure is obscured by accretions from legend and myth.
Zoroastrian tradition, which builds on allusions found in the Avesta,
Vishtasp is a righteous king who helped propagate and defend the faith.
In the non-Zoroastrian Sistan cycle texts, Vishtasp is a loathsome ruler
of Kayanian dynasty
who intentionally sends his eldest son to a certain death. In Greco-Roman
literature, Zoroaster's patron was the pseudo-anonymous author of a
set of prophecies written under his name.
Vishtasp is referred to in the Gathas, the oldest texts of Zoroastrianism
which were considered to have been composed by Zoroaster himself. In
these hymns, the poet speaks of Vishtasp as his ally (Yasna 46. 14),
follower of the path of Vohu Manah (Y. 51. 16), and committed to spreading
the prophet's message (Y. 51. 16, 46. 15, 53. 2). In Yasna 28. 1–28.
7, Zoroaster appeals to Mazda for several boons, including the power
to vanquish their foes for Vishtasp and himself. Considered collectively,
the Gathas celebrate Vishtaspa as the "patron of Zoroaster and
the establisher of the first Zoroastrian community."
Gathic allusions recur in the Yashts of the Younger Avesta. The appeal
to Mazda for a boon reappears in Yasht 5. 98, where the boon is asked
for the Haugvan [n 1] and Naotara families, and in which Vishtasp is
said to be a member of the latter. [n 2] Later in the same hymn, Zoroaster
is described as appealing to Mazda to "bring Vishtaspa, son of
Aurvataspa, to think according to Daena (Religion), to speak according
to the Religion, to act according to the Religion." (Yt. 5. 104–105).
In Yasht 9. 25–26, the last part of which is an adaptation of
the Gathic Yasna 49. 7, the prophet makes the same appeal with regard
to Hutaosa, wife of Vishtasp.
Yasht 9. 130, Vishtasp himself appeals for the ability to drive off
the attacks of the daeva-worshipping Arejat.aspa and other members of
drujvant Hyaona family. Similarly in Yasht 5. 109, Vishtasp pleads
for strength that he may "crush Tathryavant of the bad religion,
the daeva-worshipper Peshana, and the wicked Arejat.aspa." Elsewhere
(Yt. 5. 112–113), Vishtasp also pleads for strength on behalf
of Zairivairi (Pahl. Zarer), who in later tradition is said to be Vishtasp's
younger brother. The allusions to conflicts (perhaps battles, see below)
are again obliquely referred to in Yasht 13. 99–100, in which
the fravashis of Zoroaster and Vishtasp are described as victorious
combatants for Asha, and the rescuers and furtherers of the religion.
This description is repeated in Yasht 19. 84–87, where Zoroaster,
Vishtasp and Vishtasp's ancestors are additionally said to possess khvarenah.
While the chief hero of the conflicts is said to be Vishtasp's son,
Spentodhat, (Yt. 13. 103) in Yasht 13. 100, Vishtasp is proclaimed
to have set his adopted faith "in the place of honor" amongst
in the Frawardin Yasht (Yt. 13. 99–103) and elsewhere have enabled
commentators to infer family connections between Vishtasp and several
other figures named in the Avesta. The summaries of several lost Avestan
texts (Wishtasp sast nask, Spand nask, Chihrdad nask, and Varshtmansar
nask), as reported in the Denkard (respectively 8. 11, 8. 13, 8. 14,
and 9. 33. 5), suggest that there once existed a detailed "history"
of Vishtasp and his ancestors in scripture. The Yasht 13 mentions Zairiuuairi,
Piší šiiaotna (Vishtasp's eschatological son Pišišotan),
Spentodata (Spandyad), Bastauuairi (Bastwar), Kauuarazman, Frašaoštra
and Jamaspa (the Huuoguua brothers in the Gathas), all of whom are
featured in the Pahlavi narrative about the war between Vishtasp and
Arzasp (Arjasp, king of the Xiiaonas). In Yasht 9.31, Vishtasp prays
to Druuaspa that he may successfully fight and kill various opponents
and, apparently, turn Humaiia and Varedakana away from the lands of
Yasna 12, the Zarathustra, Vishtasp, Frašaoštra and Jamaspa,
and the three Saošiiants, Zarathustra’s eschatological sons,
and in Yasna 23.2 and 26.5, the fravashi of Gaiia Maretan, Zarathustra,
Vishtasp, and Isar.vastra (another of Zarathustra’s eschatological
sons) are listed as the principal fighters for Asha.
meaning of Vishtasp's name is uncertain. Interpretations include "'he
whose horses have (or horse has) come in ready (for riding, etc.)'";"'he
who has trained horses'"; and "'whose horses are released
(for the race)'". [n 3] It agrees with the description from Yasht
5.132 in which was a prototypical winner of the chariot race.
tradition and folklore
In Zoroastrian tradition :
In the Gathas, Vishtasp is repeatedly (Y. 46. 14, 51. 16, 53. 2)
referred to as a kavi, which is etymologically a term for a mantic seer,
or poet-priest, and in Yasna 28. 11 is also used of Zoroaster's enemies.
In the Younger Avesta the term is also applied to wise men generally,
to include Vishtasp and his ancestors. In tradition however, the
kavis are kings, "evidently because Vištasp and his forebears,
the 'kavis' par excellence, were princely rulers. Presumably the gift
of prophecy, of mantic poetry, was hereditary in their family."
Both scripture and tradition refer to Vishtasp's ancestors but do not
mention Vishtasp's successors; Vishtasp was apparently the last of his
line, and the last of the kavis. In Zoroastrian apocalyptic chronology,
the dynasties of the world are divided into seven ages, each named after
a metal. According to this chronology (Zand-i Wahman yasn 2. 16, Dabistan
140), Vishtaspa (in Zoroastrian Middle Persian Wishtasp) ascent to the
throne ended the reign of silver, and his reign was over the age of
gold. In tradition, the works of Zoroaster were said to have been kept
in a royal library that was then destroyed by Alexander the Great. In
Denkard 3. 420, it is Vishtaspa who is said to have been the king who
had those texts made and placed in the royal library.
Yasht's allusions to conflicts are amplified in the 9th–11th century
books of Zoroastrian tradition, where the conflicts are portrayed as
outright battles of the faith. So for example the surviving fragments
of a fragmentary text that celebrates the deeds of Zairivairi, Vishtasp's
brother and captain of his forces against Arejat.aspa, chief of the
Hyonas. According to that text (Ayadgar i Zareran, 10–11), upon
hearing of Vishtasp's conversion, Arejat.aspa sent messengers to demand
that Vishtasp" abandon 'the pure Mazda-worshipping religion which
he had received from Ohrmazd', and should become once more 'of the same
religion'" as himself. The battle that following Vishtasp's refusal
left Vishtasp victorious.
conversion of Vishtasp is likewise a theme of the 9th–11th century
books, and these legends remain the "best known and most current"
among Zoroastrians today. According to this tradition, when Zoroaster
arrived at Vishtasp's court, the prophet was "met with hostility
from the kayags and karabs (kavis and karapans), with whom he disputed
at a great assembly–a tradition which may well be based on reality,
for [Vishtasp] must have had his own priests and seers, who would hardly
have welcomed a new prophet claiming divine authority."
The tradition goes on to relate that Zoroaster triumphed after three
days of debate, only to be maligned by his enemies to Vishtasp, who
then had the prophet imprisoned. But, from prison, Zoroaster cured one
of Vishtasp's favourite horses (which had suddenly become paralyzed),
for which the prophet then gained Vishtasp's support and admiration.
The tale is obliquely referred to in the Anthology of Zadspram (24.
6), which seems to presume that the reader already knows it, and it
is summarized in the Denkard (7. 4. 64–86), and – as "workings
of popular fancy" described in detail in the later Book of Zoroaster
(942–1094). [n 4] In the myth, Zoroaster cures each of the horse's
four legs in exchange for four concessions: first, that Vishtaspa himself
accept Zoroaster's message; secondly, that Vishtaspa's son Spentodata
(MP: Esfandiar) do the same; third, that Vishtaspa's wife Hutaosa (MP:
Hutos) also convert; [n 5] and finally that the men who maligned Zoroaster
be put to death. When these four wishes are granted, the horse stands
up rejuvenated. Vishtaspa, having accepted the faith from Zoroaster,
then asks for four favours in return: first, that he, Vishtasp, should
know his place in the next world; secondly, that he should become invulnerable;
third, that he should know the future; and fourth that his body should
not leave his soul until the resurrection.
Zoroaster replies that these are too great to all be given to one man,
and that he should choose one. Vishtaspa agrees, and chooses the first.
Zoroaster then gives him consecrated wine to drink, which puts Vishtaspa
in a trance in which he has an epiphany; he sees his spirit ascend to
heaven where it beholds the glories of God. [n 6] Vishtasp's conversion
is traditionally said to have taken place during Zoroaster's forty-second
year, "a figure undoubtedly reached by later calculation".
medieval Zoroastrian chronology, Vishtasp is identified as a grandfather
of "Ardashir", i.e. the 5th century BCE Artaxerxes I (or II).
This myth is tied to the Sassanid (early 3rd–early 7th century)
claim of descent from Artaxerxes, and the claim of relationship to the
Kayanids, that is, with Vishtasp and his ancestors. The full adoption
of Kayanid names, titles and myths from the Avesta by the Sassanids
was a "main component of [Sassanid] ideology." The association
of Artaxerxes with the Kayanids occurred through the identification
of Artaxerxes II's title ('Mnemon' in Greek) with the name of Vishtasp's
legendary grandson and successor, Wahman: both are theophorics of Avestan
Vohu Manah "Good Mind(ed)"; Middle Persian 'Wahman' is a contraction
of the Avestan name, while Greek 'Mnemon' is a calque of it. The Sassanid
association of their dynasty with Vishtaspa's is a development dated
to the end of the 4th century, and which "arose to some extent
because this was when the Sasanians conquered Balkh, the birthplace
of Vishtasp and the 'holy land' of Zoroastrianism."[n 7]
was also the case for the fourth century Roman identification of Zoroaster's
patron with the late-6th century BCE father of Darius I (see below)
– the identification of Vishtasp as a grandfather of "Ardashir"
(Artaxerxes I/II) was once perceived to substantiate the "traditional
date" of Zoroaster, which places the prophet in the 6th century
BCE. The traditional descriptions of Vishtasp's ancestors as having
chariots (a description that puts them fully in the Bronze Age) also
contribute to the academic debate on the dating of Zoroaster; for a
summary of the role of Vishtasp's ancestors in this issue, see Boyce
1984, p. 62, n. 38. [n 8]
the Sistan heroic cycle :
in a section of folio 402 of the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp. The illustration,
dated ca. 1520 and now in the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (accession #
AKM 00163), is one of six miniatures in the Houghton manuscript that
are attributed to Mirza Ali, the early 16th-century court artist of
Non-Zoroastrian literature in New Persian and Arabic uniformly reflects
the regular development of Middle Persian wi- into gu-, with Middle
Persian Wishtasp thus becoming Goshtasb in Sistan national history (Tarikh-e
Sistan), Goshtasp in Firdausi's Book of Kings (Shahnameh), Goshtasf
in the Mojmal al-tawarikh, Beshtashb by Al-Tabari.
several respects, for instance in Goshtasb's/Goshtasf's (etc) mythological
genealogy, the Sistan cycle texts continue the Zoroastrian tradition.
So, for example, Goshtasp is identified as a member of the Kayanian
dynasty, is the son of Lohrasp/Lohrasb (etc), is the brother of
Zareh/Zarer (etc), is the father of Esfandiar/Isfandiar (etc) and Bashutan/Beshotan
(etc), and so on. However, in the Sistan legends, Goshtasb/Goshtasf
(etc.) is an abominable figure, altogether unlike the hero of Zoroastrian
tradition. The reason for this discrepancy is unknown. According
to the Sistan tradition, Goshtasb demands the throne from his father
Lohrasp, but storms off to India ("Hind") when the king declines.
Goshtasb's brother Zareh (Zareh/Zarer etc., Avestan Zairivairi) is sent
to fetch him, but Goshtasb flees to "Rome" where he marries
Katayoun (Katayun/Katayoun etc), the daughter of the 'qaysar'. Goshtasb
subsequently becomes a military commander for the Roman emperor, and
encourages the emperor to demand tribute from Iran. Again Zareh is sent
to fetch Goshtasb, who is then promised the throne, and is thus persuaded
in Sistan, Goshtasb imprisons his own son Esfandiar (Esfandiar/Isfandiar
etc., Avestan Spentodata), but then has to seek Esfandiar's help in
defeating Arjasp (Avestan Aurvatasp) who is threatening Balkh. Goshtasb
promises Esfandiar the throne in return for his help, but when Esfandiar
is successful, his father stalls and instead sends him off on another
mission to suppress a rebellion in Turan. Esfandiar is again successful,
and upon his return Goshtasb hedges once again and – aware of
a prediction that foretells the death of Esfandiar at the hand of Rostam
– sends him off on a mission in which Esfandiar is destined to
die. In the Shahnameh, the nobles upbraid Goshtasb as a disgrace to
the throne; his daughters denounce him as a heinous criminal; and his
younger son Bashutan (Avestan Peshotanu) condemns him as a wanton destroyer
in Zoroastrian tradition, in the Sistan cycle texts Goshtasp is succeeded
by Esfandiar's son, Bahman (< MP Wahman). The identification of Bahman
with 'Ardashir' (see above) reappears in the Sistan cycle texts as well.
Greek and Roman thought :
The name "Visthasp" is "Hystaspes" in the Greek
and Latin texts of the Hellenistic era. Besides referring to historically
attested persons named Vishtasp, it was also applied to Zoroaster's
patron, who the Greeks and Romans imagined to be a sage of great antiquity,
and the putative author of a set of prophecies written under his name.
[n 9] Although the works attributed to Pseudo-Hystaspes draw on real
Zoroastrian sources, the Greek and Roman portraits of his person are
just as fanciful as those of the other two les Mages hellénisés,
Pseudo-Zoroaster and Pseudo-Ostanes. While Pseudo-Zoroaster was identified
as the "inventor" of astrology, and Pseudo-Ostanes was imagined
to be a master sorcerer, Pseudo-Hystaspes seems to have been stereotyped
as an apocalyptic prophet.
of the works attributed to him are still extant, but quotations and
references have survived in the works of others, especially in those
of two early Christian writers – Justin Martyr (ca. 100 CE) in
Samaria and the mid-3rd century Lactantius in North Africa – who
drew on them by way of confirmation that what themselves held to be
revealed truth had already been uttered. Only one of these pseudepigraphic
works – referred to as the Book of Hystaspes or the Oracles of
Hystaspes or just Hystaspes – is known by name. This work (or
set of works) of the first century BCE is referred to by Lactantius,
Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Lydus, and Aristokritos, all of
whom describe it as foretelling the downfall of the Roman empire, the
return of rule to the east, and of the coming of the saviour.
provides a detailed summary of the Oracles of Hystaspes in his Divinae
Institutiones (Book VII, from the end of chapter 15 through chapter
19). It begins with Hystaspes awaking from a dream, and needing to have
it interpreted for him. This is duly accomplished by a young boy, "here
representing, according to convention, the openness of youth and innocent
to divine visitations." As interpreted by the boy, the dream "predicts"
the iniquity of the last age, and the impending destruction of the wicked
The divine fire will burn both the righteous and the wicked, but only
the wicked will be hurt and neither will be destroyed. During the eschatological
inferno, the "followers of truth" will separate themselves
from the wicked and ascend a mountain. The evil king who dominates the
world will be angered on hearing this, and he will resolve to encircle
the mountain with his army. The righteous implore to "Jupiter",
who sends them a saviour, who will descend from heaven accompanied by
angels and before him a flaming sword. Hystaspes "prophesies"
that the wicked king (i.e. the Roman emperor) will survive the destruction
of his armies, but will lose power. It was "presumably" the
prophecy of the destruction of a victorious power (i.e. the Roman empire)
that caused the work to be proscribed by Rome; according to Justin Martyr
(Apologia, I. 44. 12), reading the work was punishable by death.
the works attributed to the other two les Mages hellénisés,
the Oracles of Hystaspes was apparently based on the genuine Zoroastrian
myths, and "the argument for ultimate magian composition is a strong
one. As prophecies they have a political context, a function, and
a focus which radically distinguish them from the philosophical and
encyclopedic wisdom of the other pseudepigrapha. "Although "[p]rophecies
of woes and iniquities in the last age are alien to orthodox Zoroastrianism",
there was probably a growth of Zoroastrian literature in the late fourth-early
third centuries denouncing the evils of the Hellenistic age, and offering
hope of the coming kingdom of Ahura Mazda.
Greco-Roman obsession with Zoroaster as the "inventor" of
astrology also influenced the image of Hystaspes. So for example in
Lydus' On the months (de Mensibus II. 4), which credits "the Chaldeans
in the circle of Zoroaster and Hystaspes and the Egyptians" for
the creation of the seven-day week after the number of planets.
fourth century Ammianus Marcellinus (xxiii. 6. 32) identifies Zoroaster's
patron with another Vishtaspa, better known as Hystaspes in English,
the (late-6th century BCE) father of Darius I. The sixth century Agathias
was more ambivalent, observing that it wasn't clear to him whether the
name of Zoroaster's patron referred to the father of Darius or to another
Hystaspes (ii. 24). As with the medieval Zoroastrian chronology that
identifies Vishtasp with "Ardashir" (see above), Ammianus'
identification was once considered to substantiate the "traditional
date" of Zoroaster.
Vishtaspa (Old Persian : Vištaspa), Vishtap or Gustasp (modern
Persian) (fl. 550 BC), was a Persian satrap of Bactria and Persis. He
was the father of Darius
I, king of the Achaemenid Empire, and Artabanus, who was a trusted
advisor to both his brother Darius as well as Darius's son and successor,
The son of Arsames, Hystaspes was a
member of the Persian royal house of the Achaemenids. He was satrap
of Persis under Cambyses, and probably under Cyrus the Great also. He
accompanied Cyrus on his expedition against the Massagetae. However,
he was sent back to Persis to keep watch over his eldest son, Darius,
whom Cyrus, after a dream, suspected of considering treason.
Darius, Hystaspes had three sons: Artabanus, Artaphernes, and Artanes,
as well as a daughter who married Darius' lance-bearer Gobryas.
Marcellinus makes him a chief of the Magians, and tells a story of his
studying in India under the Brahmins, an event that would correspond
to the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley :
here to view Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley.
a very wise monarch, the father of Darius. Who while boldly penetrating
into the remoter districts of upper India, came to a certain woody retreat,
of which with its tranquil silence the Brahmans, men of sublime genius,
were the possessors. From their teaching he learnt the principles of
the motion of the world and of the stars, and the pure rites of sacrifice,
as far as he could; and of what he learnt he infused some portion into
the minds of the Magi, which they have handed down by tradition to later
ages, each instructing his own children, and adding to it their own
system of divination".
Ammianus Marcellinus, XXIII. 6.
In ancient sources, Hystaspes is sometimes considered as identical with
Vishtaspa (the Avestan name for Hystapes), an early patron of Zoroaster.
name of Hystaspes occurs in the inscriptions at Persepolis and in the
Behistun Inscription, where the full lineage of Darius the Great is
Darius says :
My father is Hystaspes [Vištâspa]; the father of Hystaspes
was Arsames [Aršâma]; the father of Arsames was Ariaramnes
[Ariyâramna]; the father of Ariaramnes was Teispes [Cišpiš];
the father of Teispes was Achaemenes [Haxâmaniš].
Darius says :
That is why we are called Achaemenids; from antiquity we have been noble;
from antiquity has our dynasty been royal. King Darius says: Eight of
my dynasty were kings before me; I am the ninth. Nine in succession
we have been kings.
Darius says :
By the grace of Ahuramazda am I king; Ahuramazda has granted me the